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Review

"The future of our interactions with technology will build upon the foundations provided by Brenda Laurel in this deep, thought-provoking, and critically important book."
Don Norman, Nielsen Norman Group; author of Design of Everyday Things, Revised and Expanded Edition

 

"An extremely timely update of a secret classic. Brenda Laurel will teach you a powerful and extremely refreshing way to look anew at things digital and the creation thereof. If you read the original, hit it again; it makes even better sense in the twenty-first century!"
William Gibson, author of Distrust That Particular Flavor and Zero History

 

"Brenda Laurel's Computers as Theatre was one of the few truly transformative books to emerge in the heady, early days of the 'digital revolution,' demanding that we think of the computer as posing a series of creative problems that might best be addressed through the lens of the dramatic arts rather than purely technical problems that remain in the domain of the computer scientists. In this new edition, she revisits that classic text in light of her rich and diverse experiences as a designer, educator, and entrepreneur."
Henry Jenkins, author of Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture

 

"Read this-it's both scholarly and fun and runs your own internal models of human-computer interaction through a series of gymnastics that will loosen and broaden your thinking about UI issues forever."
Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community, Smart Mobs, and Net Smart

 

"This new edition is livelier and cooler than ever. It is absolutely required reading for anyone interested in computers and their influence on culture. Thank you, Dr. Laurel, for a wild ride!"
Mary Flanagan, inventor, designer, and author of Critical Play

 

"The revision of this perennial classic is long overdue, and Laurel's thoughtful revisiting of her influential ideas from more than two decades ago does not disappoint. Her book bridges the intellectual heritage of our distant past (Aristotle), our recent past (Engelbart, Kay, Bushnell), and our present state of affairs concerning computers, illustrated by colorful, anecdotal parables."
Celia Pearce, Associate Professor of Digital Media, Georgia Tech; author of Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds

 

"The arts have the power to grab hold of us, shape our attention and action, and make us feel like an experience is complete and meaningful. Computers as Theatre, Second Edition, is the essential guide to integrating that power into the design of new technologies."
Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Chair, Digital Arts and New Media, University of California, Santa Cruz; author of Expressive Processing

About the Author

Brenda Laurel has worked in interactive media since 1976 as a designer, researcher, writer and teacher. She currently serves as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science and Affiliated Faculty for Games and Playable Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Laurel previously served as Professor and Founding Chair of the graduate program in design at California College of Arts and the Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design. She previously was a distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems Labs (2005-2006). Based on her research in gender and technology at Interval Research, she co-founded Purple Moon in 1996 to create interactive media for girls. In 1990 she co-founded Telepresence Research, focusing on virtual reality and remote presence. Other employers have included Atari, Activision, and Apple. Her books include The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design (1990), Computers as Theatre, Second Edition (forthcoming 2013), Utopian Entrepreneur (2001), and Design Research: Methods and Perspectives (2004). She earned her BA from Depauw University and her MFA and PhD in theatre from The Ohio State University.


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Made me think about things I never would have thought about 2 Nov. 2013
By M. Helmke - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Computers as Theatre, Second Edition is an update to a 20-year-old classic in the field of human-computer interaction. The author, Brenda Laurel, is an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science and Affiliated Faculty for Games and Playable Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In addition to her academic credentials, which include a PhD in theatre, she also has serious real-world experience with previous employers like Atari, Activision, and Apple.

The book is based on the simple premise that effective interface design, just like effective drama, must engage the user directly in an experience involving both thought and action. Laurel's key point is that a user's enjoyment must be a paramount design consideration, and she posits that it demands a deep awareness of dramatic theory and technique. While I might shrink back from the idea that this awareness is an absolute requirement, I will quickly and easily concede that this awareness would be extremely useful.

This is not a book of practical tips and tricks. It is a reader-accessible study that lays out the philosophical and academic foundations for understanding first how humans audience members interact with drama and uses that as a basis for thinking about how computer users can more effectively be enabled to interact with computers.

The beginning of Computers as Theatre focuses on both classical and modern schools of thought and theory about drama. This is very interesting and outside of my previous experience. It got me thinking about things I had never considered. I like that.

The rest of the book takes this knowledge and applies it to computers. It does so in ways that alternately seem obvious and revolutionary. I will illustrate using one small portion of the book's content.

In drama, the action is represented as a whole and created by the playwright and director to be the same in every performance. In human-computer interaction, the action is collaboratively shaped by both the designer and the person using the computer; it is a joint-venture and may change with each interactive session. And yet, in both instances, there is an expected beginning, middle, and end. The audience expects to move from a beginning point to an end point with a purpose. The characters in a drama exist and act to move this plot forward. So do the elements of a computer interface design.

Have you have ever sat at a computer looking at a piece of software and wondering "What's the point?" Then you have experienced a bad interface design. Learning how to create an interface that has an obvious point and reason behind each of its constituent parts and actions is one of the things this book intends to teach, but again, from a philosophical rather than practical standpoint. Here we do not learn the "what to do" answers so much as the questions to ask. In the long term, this is usually more valuable regardless of the topic or field.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
An important perspective missing in most development 22 Oct. 2013
By Nathan Shedroff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The reissue of "Computers as Theater" has all the validity of academic research but is accessible to anyone wanting to know more about how to design great experiences. Since every interaction is, essentially, a kind of narrative, there's no better place to learn how to make satisfying narratives than to look at one of it's oldest forms: theater. This book was one of my first inspirations as an interaction designer (and bringing to the field a perspective not shared elsewhere). It had a huge, positive impact on my work and outlook. Now, Laurel's second edition keeps the best parts but updates the themes with examples since the first publishing. Don't just skim for app and website examples, the older references are just as relevant today as they were in 1993.

This book is for those who want to understand and develop the skills to create experiences that go beyond the status quo. It will help you understand the purpose, structure, and application of narrative within the computer-mediated domain (which is almost everything, today). Not understanding this material is a serious deficiency for any designer, producer, writer, manager, director, innovator, or (even) engineer.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Even Better the Second Time Around 18 Nov. 2013
By Christopher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It's difficult to update a classic. The original work needs to stand the test of time, and the update needs to add sufficient value. Laurel has done just that with this 2nd Edition. The new content not only enhances her themes, but also adds an enjoyable sense of humor and insightful practicality that only comes from first-hand experience. Buy and read this book--whether for the first time or as a repeat performance. It's well worth your time.
0 of 11 people found the following review helpful
One of the most boring and drab books I've ever read 22 Mar. 2014
By RevolveR - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I thought this book would be helpful in giving examples of how to design applications that immerse users and make the interaction between computers and humans more accessible and immersive.

Instead it reads like a PhD thesis and is so full of theoretical and historical topics that it soon becomes a struggle to maintain enough interest to even to make it to end of the page.

This is not an inspiring book in the least, although the topic it attempts to cover is. There are other books out there that deal with this topic is a far better way. This is one to avoid.
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